PUTNAM POSTING: Primary Season is Here—A Call For Participation

Jennifer Maher | August 9, 2017

After a few years of living in Putnam County, I learned that to have a say in local elections you had to vote in the primary, and historically the Republican candidate would win. After a few years, I became a Republican to have a choice of who would wind up in whatever office was being filled.

This is not a debate on one party over the other. Frankly, neither party suits me nowadays, especially on a national level. The last Presidential candidate I actually wanted to vote for was H. Ross Perot. He at least was different. So while I am NO Trump fan, I totally get why he was voted into office. Locally, the lack of political opposition often means only Republican candidates for seats, and often many go unopposed. The lack of a true democratic process creates an atmosphere that is a bit too comfortable for those holding office. Minimal infrastructure improvements, blighted Main Streets and poor planning for our future can be partially blamed on this broken system. Many elected officials in our county such as our County Executive fought hard to be in their positions and to uphold the integrity of their office. Many others, however, do not.

I believe we fall short as a Chamber by not being more involved politically. We should be grooming experienced, business friendly candidates to be running our towns—and that goes for everyone. Readers of this column should get involved, vote in the primary, show up for debates. Whatever party you are, get on the committee and make sure viable candidates are being put into elections. According to the League of Women Voters there are currently no primary debates scheduled. This is a shame.

On September 15th the league will be hosting a panel discussion on an upcoming ballot item regarding a proposed Constitutional Convention. Some experts on the topic will be present to speak. In late October there will be a series of forums for general election candidates. Most towns have open seats as well as the Sheriff and Legislature. Bedroom communities still need to engage in the process. It is our right and our duty.

Ridesharing is Not Just For Millennials

According to a study by the University of Michigan’s Brandon Schoettle, a researcher, only 69% of 19-year-olds had a driver’s license in 2014, compared with almost 90% in 1983. The number of 20-somethings with driver’s licenses has also fallen by 13% over the past three decades, and fewer Americans in their 30s and 40s now have driver’s licenses. “Some of the oldest age groups, which had seen relatively large increases in licensing over the past few decades … have started to show some small decreases in licensing,” says Schoettle, who claims there is “a decrease in the percentage of people with a license across all age groups.”

With the popularity of ridesharing, all age groups are likely down in obtaining driver’s licenses. I grew up in New York City and did not get a driver’s license until I was 23 upon moving to California. Not everyone likes the responsibility or the fact that your time is held captive when behind a wheel of a car.

I have served on the Putnam County transportation task force for four years. At a recent meeting, we discussed the safety of the ride sharing services versus traditional cabs. The County Executive and legislators may decide to adopt the “Thumbs Up” program they have in Westchester County, which allows voluntary background checks for rideshare drivers in return for a seal of approval to display on the car’s window. The current rideshare app does not delineate those in the program versus those that are not. The overall consensus was that getting the word out about our existing transportation (buses, trains, shuttles, cabs, ridesharing) would help break the public transportation “stigma” in Putnam County, so people know they can get from one part of the county to another without having to drive.

On a related note, according to a study performed by the American Planning Association, 55% of millennials surveyed are likely to move within the next five years. Elected officials reading this, WAKE UP and do something. The opportunity is here and the iron is HOT. Tying in public transportation to affordable housing, Putnam’s commercial sector and natural recreation is crucial to attracting the young generation A.K.A “millennials” and those of us who are simply young at heart.

Jennifer Maher
Jennifer Maher is the founding chairwoman of the Putnam County Business Council and is COO of J. Philip Real Estate.